What Makes Hollandaise Sauce So Finicky?
For a Pinnable Image, please click here.
One of the reasons folks seem intimidated by making Hollandaise sauce is that it has a reputation of being very finicky. And to a certain extent, it is. Still, if you know what to look for and understand the technique for making it, you should have no problems. Hollandaise is an emulsion of water and fat. Part of what makes it tend towards instability is that the amount of fat is about 4-8 times the amount of water. And with that much fat, you need a lot of emulsifiers (hence the relatively large amount of yolks) and constant agitation (hence the manic whisking) to get it to behave.
Where Did You Get This Formula? Why Does It Have Water In It?
This particular Hollandaise formula is from Secrets from the La Varenne Kitchen (affiliate link) by Anne Willan. Anne Willan ran the prestigious La Varenne Cooking School in Burgundy for 16 years, and this was one of the recipes she expected her students to know by heart. Now that I know it by heart, I will never un-know it!
This formula contains water added at the beginning to give the butter something to emulsify with. The water loosens up the yolks and allows them to get super creamy but not so thick that they form a paste. If your sauce becomes thick and pasty when you start adding your butter, it makes it a bit harder to get the butter to combine. If this does happen to you, drizzle in a few drops of water–whisking all the while–to loosen it slightly before continuing to add the melted butter.
Some formulas call for adding the lemon juice at the beginning and only adding water at the end, but I prefer this method as it lets you add lemon juice to taste at the end. For some applications, you may want your sauce more buttery, and for others, you’ll really want that extra bite of lemon. Adding it at the end allows you to more easily customize your finished Hollandaise.